A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
David Sedaris has had many jobs, but their primary reason seems to be to provide fodder for his ultimate job, that of raconteur. A few years ago, I recommended his Holidays On Ice as a Christmas themed book, citing his experiences as an elf in Santa’s toyshop at Macy’s department store as a hilarious holiday story. …Talk Pretty… is an earlier collection, featuring turns as a floor sander, house cleaner, moving van loader and writing workshop teacher. Though he is qualified for some more than others, they all lead to amusing adventures.
But the real theme of this book is language. The first essay of 27 starts out mysteriously, as “an agent” shows up at his elementary school classroom and takes him to an unexplained location, which turns out to be a speech therapy session. As a veteran of speech classes myself, I could relate to his mocking of tedious alliteration exercises and modifying his everyday sentences to avoid difficult letter sounds. His lack of improvement as a child speaking English doesn’t daunt him as an adult trying to learn French, in preparation for moving to Normandy with his boyfriend, Hugh. His French teacher is a sadistic woman who encourages her students vulnerabilities and then bullies them for it. The title of the book comes from one of his fellow students as they mutilate the language in conversation after class. Some of the essays are about the author’s early days in France. One of the most interesting is about the French style of bullfights, which I liked better than the Spanish versions, since the animals aren’t killed.
He also writes about his family during his childhood. Their dad was an IBM engineer who longs for his six children to form a jazz combo. He buys them all instruments and signs them up for lessons, but none of them have any musical talent. Sedaris recounts some of his “epic daydreams”, alternate fantasies of his life. One was him as a scientist who develops a serum to make trees grow faster and invents soap which makes the user look twenty five years old, but only for three days and doesn’t work on anyone in the fashion or movie business.
The mark of a superb raconteur is to make ordinary things entertaining, and Sedaris does. Anyone who can claim that “Fickle gnomes control the weather and an air conditioner is powered by a team of squirrels, their cheeks packed with ice cubes.” is worth reading, if only for their priceless view of the world.
Back Bay Books 2000 211 pp. ISBN 978-0316776967 available in traditional and ebook formats